Book Review: Engineering Management for the Rest of Us

In this post, I'll share a short review of "Engineering Management for the Rest of Us" by Sarah Drasner. I heard about this book in a podcast a while back and I was excited to give it a read since I've recently transitioned into an engineering management role. Let's dive in!

Aaron Bos | Sunday, October 22, 2023


If you're short on time and want to know my thoughts then read no further. Overall Engineering Management for the Rest of Us is a great book. As someone new to engineering management and leadership, I'm keen to learn and accelerate my growth as a leader. As with anything, time and experience are vital to learning. Sarah does a great job of sharing her first-hand experience with companies like Netlify and Google while also diving deeper into the thoughts behind her ideas.

If you're already sold on reading, head on over to Sarah's site for more information and links to buy. If you're interested in hearing more about my thoughts, take another sip of coffee ☕️ and read on!

Who should read this book?

I think this book can be applied to anyone in an engineering management role or even those who are interested in management. All of the advice and content comes from Sarah and her experiences with reputable companies. Those in more senior leadership positions may not find some of the advice as useful assuming that they've mastered some of the topics covered. Although I'd say it's never too late for anyone to learn a thing or two about culture and collaboration.

As someone who is new to the engineering management world, I found this book to be insightful for many reasons. Most of all because it covered such a wide variety of topics from task prioritization to influencing team culture.

What's covered in the book?

The book is broken down into four sections. Each section includes a few chapters on similarly themed topics.

  1. Your team
  2. Collaboration
  3. Helping your team do their best work
  4. Your work

The book opens with first section discussing "your team". To summarize loosely, I think the main focus throughout this section is about creating a culture within your team that is based on trust and communication. Sarah shares some great knowledge about understanding values and the importance of 1:1's.

The next section about collaboration builds on the first by going deeper into the communication aspect of management. The pillars of this chapter are based on giving and receiving feedback, as well as managing conflict. I think these are important topics because typically someone less experienced in management will not have much practice in these areas.

The next section is smaller and mostly focused around understanding the value an engineering manager can provide in different contexts of the work that the team is doing. For example, a manager may play a role in scoping down PRs or even doing some of the work themselves. Regardless of the role a manager needs to look for ways to accelerate the team in whatever way possible, but that doesn't always mean in the short term. A manager that diligently shares knowledge or allows others to take on responsibility, can help their team in the long run.

Finally Sarah dives a bit deeper in the finer-grained details of an engineering manager. Covering topics like day-to-day prioritization and taking the time to "fill your cup" as a manager. As managers there is a lot of focus on making the team and its members happy and productive. That being said, it can be easy to forget about yourself sometimes. It's important to strike a balance and even look for opportunities of overlap where doing what makes the team happy also makes you happy.

Personal highlights

I enjoyed this entire book, but there were a couple of highlights that generally resonated with me more than others.

Trust is vital to creating an environment where team members can take risks and achieve big things. Sarah described trust as a foundational aspect for almost any successful team. I've always put a high value in earning and maintaining a sense of trust with those that I work with, so hearing Sarah echo that in this book was great.

Resonsibility and ownership as an engineering manager is key success. This theme came out in multiple different ways whether it be in not placing blame on others or owning decisions. As an engineering manager you are not always directly responsible for doing the work, but you are responsible for the outcome. The sooner you understand this the sooner you can begin to make the right decisions for you and your team.

As always thank you for taking the time to read this blog post!